Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Education
State Board of Education
Regulations Governing Local School Boards and School Divisions [8 VAC 20 ‑ 720]
Action Amendments Regarding Use of Controversial or Sensitive Instructional Materials
Comment Period Ended on 1/15/2014
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12/16/13  9:10 pm
Commenter: Donna L. Shrum

Removing the last shred of trust in teachers

The other day, one of my eighth graders asked if she could read me something: “Would you like to see this movie with me?  It’s about a man’s wife and children who are brutally murdered by a serial killer.  One physically handicapped child survives.  In a horrible twist of fate, this handicapped child is kidnapped and taken halfway around the world.  The father embarks on a daring journey to get him back.  He is assisted in his quest by a mentally disabled woman.  Do you want to see the movie?”  I replied, “Of course not!”  She giggled and said, “It’s called ‘Finding Nemo.’”

Her joke came to mind when reading the proposed amendment of 8 VAC 20-720. “Sensitive” and “explicit” is often in the eye of the beholder.  When parents entrust their children to our classrooms, they are trusting us to make the right decisions regarding the material used in class.  8 VAC 20-720 says that trust is completely gone.  This amendment originated because of a very mature novel assigned in a senior literature class.  The expectation has always been that each student is mature enough to choose to opt out of particular reading material, and parents can also make the decision on behalf of the student.  In that situation, the offending novel had won the Pulitzer Prize, and this author has been awarded the Nobel Prize and Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Certainly, the international community deemed this author’s work worthy of study and reading, and the teacher made a rational choice to include it as material for college-bound young adults.

The change would add that instructors must provide a copy of the syllabus for each of their child's courses, “including a notice to parents about any sensitive or sexually explicit materials that may be included in the course, the textbook, or any supplemental instructional materials.”  Rather than continue in the implicit contract of trust between teacher, parents, and children, this amendment places an undue burden on the instructor to comb through every possible work that will be used during the year and identify anything that could be interpreted as sensitive or sexually explicit.  No more current events—they can’t be identified ahead of time, and reading about school shootings, for example, is a sensitive subject.  After the teacher sends home the notice, then an undue alarm and burden is placed on the parent to comb through each reading to see if it passes muster.

This amendment is one step from parents simply choosing what teachers are allowed to use in class—but, of course, each parent must be in agreement.  I won’t be surprised if this amendment is put in place, because it will say that I have no professional judgment, no control over what I choose to teach to prepare my students to understand the world in which they live.  If it passes, perhaps parents will be good enough to get together before school begins, decide which material is acceptable to all of them, and put it in a packet for me.  Then perhaps the VDOE will put a webcam in each classroom so parents can check during school hours to make sure that we aren’t teaching anything sensitive or sexually explicit, because we surely can’t be trusted.  It will be a relief when we get to the point where the parents and administrators dictate 100% of what will be taught in the classroom, because teachers will no longer need to train or continue professional development—what would be the need when what we teach will be completely dictated by others?

CommentID: 29635